Set Practical Expectations for ADHD Youngsters
When it all makes sense
Executive challenges have many implications for the ADHD sufferer in your life. One result is that our children lag behind their peers on average by 3-5 years (around 30% for older teenagers)! This can make it really difficult to have realistic expectations for children with ADHD.
It seems like every time I share this with a client, I can almost see the lightbulb light up. “Impressive! That explains so much!”
So if you take your child’s birth age, subtract 4 years, and think about how the kids in that class are in school – things should start making more sense. Hard to imagine? Attend a classroom with children 3-5 years younger than your child. You will be surprised at how familiar the behaviors feel.
If your child is in the 9th grade even though they are 14 years old, they are actually more of a fifth grader who is learning the skills to do their job more independently. When your child is in 3rd grade, they may act more like a child in kindergarten.
For most of my clients, this knowledge is liberating, especially when you consider how frustrating it is to not understand why your child is not “up to date”.
Now that you know, what should you do about it?
Let me be very clear: I am not saying lower Your expectations, I say, shift your expectations for children with ADHD to be more realistic. As empowering parents, we always want to challenge our children to grow and learn to develop at a reasonable pace. But we want to make sure we’re keeping them at a pace that makes sense for them, and not their peers who don’t have ADHD!
Would you give a full cup of milk to a toddler? No, probably not. If you don’t want to risk having to clean up a big mess, you would probably use a drinking cup. Would you let your 12 year old drive your car? As a passenger, I hope not. 😉
The 3 step process is simple:
- Make sure you understand where your child is on the ladder of development
- Find out what the next step on the ladder is
- Help them take the next step (and then the next, and then the next)
What could that look like in real life? Let’s say your child is having trouble with their homework. First, be clear about the steps in the process that can be done independently. The steps to increase academic independence could look something like this:
- The teacher gives the parents written instructions for each night; Parents review and guide the child through the tasks.
- The teacher gives written instructions; Parents remind the child to review and complete the assignments.
- The teacher reminds the child to write down assignments; Parents remind the child to review and finalize.
- Every evening the teacher checks that the child is writing down the assignments; Parents check that the tasks are done.
- The teacher publishes assignments on the website for parents and children to check.
Shifting expectations is a process
Each level is becoming increasingly independent. The challenge is to set our expectations of children with ADHD to a realistic level that corresponds to the development of our child. Failure to do this usually leads to a lot of frustration in the adults involved and hurt self-esteem in our children. Taking the time to figure out what children can reasonably do and challenge them to their next level (rather than that of their peers) is a very supportive solution for everyone involved.
If your child is in a wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs, you wouldn’t expect them to get up and run up the stairs. Depending on their abilities, you can expect them to slide backwards, crawl, or be carried. (You could also build one of these cool lift things!)
It’s not about giving our kids a free pass or doing things for them. It’s about figuring out how to hold them accountable while preparing for success. So, the next time you’re frustrated when you find that your child can’t do something, take a step back. Clearly identify what you can do, set realistic expectations based on your understanding of your child’s ADHD, and help them reach the next level – when the time is right.